Rush hour in a city is no picnic, but it could get much better if moving cars communicated with each other.
Much of the technology that could perfect traffic flow and safety already exists -- automatic braking, driverless features and the like -- and cities are now trying to integrate it all into systems that could anticipate the various movements of walkers, bikers and drivers.
Three federally funded pilot projects in New York City, Tampa, Florida, and the state of Wyoming are currently testing smart vehicle technology. In addition to coordinating traffic signals and vehicle movement, the programs are also exploring ways that the technology could divert cars from unexpected traffic jams.
Engineering giant Siemens announced this week that it would develop technology for Tampa's connected vehicle program. The company is already working with a number of cities around the country, including New York City, to improve transportation.
“If there’s an accident, if a traffic light breaks down, if a stadium releases people after a game, that’s a different traffic pattern,” Kevin Riddett, president of the mobility division at Siemens, told The Huffington Post of the Tampa program. “The system should be able to automatically route different directions to people.”
In ideal traffic systems, cars approaching an intersection would automatically slow down as the light turns red. They would sense one another and be able to travel faster and closer together, using fuel more efficiently. They'd also be alert to potential pedestrian collisions.
The technology could send alerts to drivers if a handicapped pedestrian is navigating a busy crosswalk, or if a driver is approaching a curve in the road at too high a speed.
The three pilot projects received $42 million from the Department of Transportation to test the software. The program in Tampa will be implemented over 18 months and will be studied for three years.
Of course, an interconnected network isn’t limited to roads. In dense cities like New York, where people rely heavily on public transportation, officials are also finding ways to increase connectivity within subway systems and between trains and commuters.
That includes adding communications-based train control, a technology developed by Siemens that allows New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority to better monitor where subways are and add more trains to the routes. It’s already been installed on the L train and is expanding to the Queens Boulevard line, which is used by the E, F, M and R trains.
As subway riders know all too well, connectivity extends to the customer experience too -- and it’s an area where agencies have sometimes been slow to catch up to the public’s demands.
At a transportation panel held Tuesday at Bloomberg LP’s headquarters in New York and sponsored by Siemens, transportation officials pointed to small things, like countdown clocks alerting riders to the arrival of the next train. These have had a big impact on people’s commutes, they said.
“What I thought were luxuries -- connectivity, improved, enhanced experience -- are things that people believe” in having now, Thomas Prendergast, chairman and CEO of the MTA, said at the panel. “And they’re becoming a larger percentage of our ridership base. We have to respond to them.”
Here's a local TV interview from last year with the Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority, which is leading the Florida prong of the connected vehicle project: